Broadcast 3411 Dr. Alan Stern

  • The Space Foundation Conference

  • The Space Foundation Conference

  • The Space Foundation Conference

  • The Space Foundation Conference

The Space Foundation Conference

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Guest:  Dr. Alan Stern;  Topics: New Horizons, Pluto & Kuiper Belt updates, planetary nomenclature, exoplanets and much more.

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We welcomed Dr. Alan Stern back to the program for this nearly 90 minute discussion focusing on New Horizons, Pluto and Kuiper Belt updates plus a new push for proper planetary nomenclature.  In addition, we talked about life in the solar systems, exoplanets, commercial mission opportunities BLEO and more.  Alan started the discussion with a detailed discussion and update regarding the New Horizons mission. He reported that all systems were working fine, he gave us the distance it had traveled and put it in context of the distance between Earth and the Sun.  We talked about when it would reach interstellar space and the actual definition of having reached interstellar space as the two much earlier Voyager space craft did several years ago.  

Alan received many questions from listeners as well as from me.  One question asked if solar power could be used for some of the more distant planetary missions.  Alan said that at this time, no, but that SSP could possibly be used as far out as Saturn and maybe in time would be extended further out for specific missions.  Another question dealt with the one way and round trip transmission time for New Horizons plus Sarah sent in a note about the very long times involved for these missions and wondering if people made a full career out of just working on one planetary mission.  Don't miss what Alan said as it might surprise you. 

Listener Jack asked Alan about the fast moving interstellar objects we have now discovered-all two of them so far.  More was said about interstellar including potential interstellar flights by NASA and others.  He mentioned the proposed NASA interstellar mission but note that our guest for Friday, Nov. 22 is part of that team so that mission will be discussed in detail on the program with Dr. Runyon.

Dr. Stern wanted to talk about the challenges going on with planetary nomenclature.  He referenced the old IAU change in policy that took away planet status from Pluto.  Don't miss this detailed discussion, the consequences of the IAU policy, why the IAU should never have gotten involved in this issue in the first place, the difference between astronomy and planetary science and the need to properly address planetary nomenclature in education including text books.  By the way, our guest on Friday, Nov. 22, Dr. Kirby Runyon, will also be addressing planetary nomenclature.

Listener Tom changed the subject by asking Alan if there was a plan for a Pluto orbiter.  The answer was yes but the process as everyone knows is competitive.  Alan spoke to the Pluto orbiter proposal in the works.  The issue of instrumentation for a Pluto orbiter came up.  Don't miss the type of instruments Alan said would likely be on such an orbiter mission, development timelines, and even instrument package competition.  Another listener asked our guest about additional planetary discoveries in our solar system and referred to Pluto as Planet 9.  Alan had much to say about using Planet 9 nomenclature. Be sure you hear his comments on this topic. 

Later in the program, listener Alex asked Alan about possible BLEO commercial missions.  Alan had some thoughts on the subject but for the most part, commercial BLEO is not ready for prime time.  Terry from Texas asked Alan about the Ort Cloud and New Horizons.  He also brought up the McDonald Observatory which Alan was familiar with from his student days and more recent work.  Here is the website for the observatory: By the way, this is the University of Texas observatory. Listener Susan asked Alan what he thought of our return to the Moon plans, the Gateway, all of it.  You might be surprised by what our guest had to say about the Artemis project, NASA Administrator Bridenstine and human spaceflight.  Please let us know what you think and post your comments on our blog for this show. 

Exoplanets and finding life were the next big topic of the day.  Once again, Alan had much to say on the exoplanet topic.  He also talked about other missions to possible places to search for life including the Europa Clipper  Mission.  Another listener asked Alan about planetary missions competing with human spaceflight.  Alan talked about points of convergence for the two so don't miss this part of our conversation.  Linda followed with more about AI and Robotics asking if we should we be concerned given warnings by Mr. Musk and others.  As we came up on the end of the program, Alan offered closing comments plus a glimpse of upcoming space projects and policy.

Please post your comments/questions on TSS blog.  You can reach Dr. Stern through me or his address at The Southwest Institute in Boulder as well as through the NASA APL New Horizons sites.




New Horizons update, what makes a planet, exoplanets, interstellar & more

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15 Nov 2019 Dr. Alan Stern
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  • The Space Foundation Conference

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